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Friday, April 20, 2012

Premier League team of the last 20 years

Any Premier League XI of the past twenty years is bound to feature plenty of United players. Having won 12 out of 19 (with a chance of making it 13 out of 20) the reds have been the defining team of the Premier League years. To celebrate the twenty seasons of PL football have invited fans to vote for their XI of the last two decades and we couldn't resist contributing to the debate. Here are our selections.
In goal we chose Peter Schmeichel, and frankly if Schmeichel does not make the final team the whole exercise will have been a farce. There is no doubt that the Dane, in his prime, was the best keeper to play in the league and his 5 titles, including 2 doubles and a treble attest to his winning mentality. The difficulties United had in replacing the Great Dane are well documented and only the calm brilliance of Edwin Van Der Saar (4 league titles) came close to matching Schmeichel's influence between the sticks in the Premier League era. David Seaman won the title in 1998 and 2002; Peter Cech won 3 between 2005 and 2010; and each were fine 'keepers in their own right but its a no brainer that Schmeichel deserves the crown.
Gary Neville gets the nod at right back in the absence of any serious opposition. The former United captain held down his position in the United team from the mid 90's until injury struck in 2007. Lee Dixon was the only other right back of real and enduring quality in all of that time. Of course Neville was never the most naturally gifted footballer but his determination and application stood to him over the years and his position in both the United and England starting line ups was never really threatened for the best part of decade.
Denis Irwin was an equally obvious selection at left back and he was a footballer of supreme style and quality. His free-kicks and fierce long range drives were legendary, as were his ice cool penalty kicks. Defensively he was as solid and dependable a player as there has ever been. In fact, in all of his time he only ever cost United one goal, a bad back pass that allowed Denis Bergkamp to score at Highbury. The rest of the time he was faultless. It was a travesty when David Elleray harshly sent him off at Anfield in 1999, costing the Irishman a place in the FA cup final.
It was harder to choose a centre back pairing. It has always been our opinion that Vidic and Stam had been United's best centre backs in the Fergie era but the criteria for selection here was overall performance over the Premier League years. Stam played for just 3 seasons in England - albeit 3 title winning seasons - but over the Premier League Rio edges out the big Dutchman. Since his emergence at West Ham and his time at Leeds, Rio has been one of the most elegant and effective defenders in the English game. Having won the title in 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011 he is far more decorated than any of his contemporaries. Of course the Bruce and Pallister combination also won multiple titles but Rio cemented his position in the best XI by proving himself at European level and forming an equally formidable partnership with Nemanja Vidic.
Which brings us to Vidic himself; a defender well worthy of his place in the XI. Having arrived in England midway through the 2005/06 season Nemanja made his mark the following year in a title winning defence. Subsequent titles in 2008, 2009 and 2011 have confirmed his reputation and even though Carragher, Adams, Terry and Keown all have claims, between them they cannot boast as many titles as the United pair of Rio and Vidic.
Which brings us to midfield. And frankly, choosing the Midfield was easy. Ronaldo, Scholes, Keane, Giggs walk into any team - no debate.
Playing on the right wing Ronaldo was named  as the best player in the world in 2008 and scored a silly amount of goals in his last three seasons at United. Since then he has been a phenomenon, only bettered by Lionel Messi in recent times. The Portugal international is probably the greatest player to have played in the Premier League although his very best form has been seen in Spain. Viva Ronaldo Stretford End sang; and what a pleasure it was to have a genuine great of the game spend several of his prime years in our League.
In the centre of the park meanwhile, Paul Scholes has been the best midfielder in England over the past twenty years and the best in Europe if you believe the likes of Xavi, Zidane, Marcello Lippi, Gary Neville and Sir Alex Ferguson, all of whom have spoken of Scholes in the most adoring terms. And why wouldn't they? There is something poetic about the way the the Salford man plays his football. He was an inspiration to Barcelona maestro Xavi with the Spaniard saying ''In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen — the most complete — is Scholes. I have spoken with Xabi Alonso about this many times. Scholes is a spectacular player who has everything''
Alongside Scholes, Keane was the defining midfield general of the Premier League era; Bryan Robson having been past his best by the time the league was launched. But Keano was so similiar to Robbo in so many ways. At the time of his transfer to United Keane commanded a record fee. He was wanted by every top team in the land but thankfully Fergie got his man and Keane was to provide the engine for 7 title winning United sides.
And then there was Giggs. What can we say about the Welsh legend. He has played and scored in every single Premier League season. He is undoubtedly THE player of the Premier League era. 12 titles (so far) and hundreds of appearances. He has rarely been out of the top two in the league. But it's not just the medals. There has not been a better left winger over the last twenty years.
Choosing the strikers was the most difficult task. Having said that, for any United fan Cantona is a must. In the early years of the Premier League, Cantona was the man. There was simply no other player in England who could do the things that he could. He was the catalyst for Manchester United's  1990's success; the inspiration to the emerging generation of Beckham, Scholes, Giggs and as such he has defined the league in a way that only Sir Alex Ferguson can surpass. In short, Fergie's signing of Eric made THE difference. It was perhaps the most beautiful meeting of minds that Football has ever known. Eric was the king.
As for Cantona's partner in this fantasy XI, Alan Shearer, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Andy Cole and Denis Bergkamp were all brilliant and must be considered, with Shearer having the record number of PL goals (even if he only managed 1 title). But we have gone for Rooney; possibly the greatest English talent to emerge in the Premier League era. From the moment he exploded on to scene with that wonder goal against Arsenal Rooney has captured the imagination of the fans in a way that few others have managed. His goal against City in the derby back in February 2011 ranks among the greatest ever scored and to date he has won 4 Premier League titles.
So it's an all United team for us; surprise surprise; biased perhaps but the only serious non United contenders were Tony Adams, Jamie Carragher, Alan Shearer, Steven Gerrard and Denis Bergkamp. Viera, Zola and Petit were worthy of a mention too but ultimately only 11 can be picked and United have been the best.
So to recap, here is the team of the last 20 years. Schmeichel, Neville, Irwin, Ferdinand, Vidic, Keane, Scholes, Ronaldo, Cantona, Rooney and Giggs.

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